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Monday, October 26, 2015

Strawberry Festival

Our new home in Utah had a delightful tradition of celebrating it's agricultural history. The Strawberry Festival was a wonderful family experience. We loved exploring the vendor booths, riding the rides, and enjoying the festival food. 

The ferris wheel was a hit for some, and not for others. Matthew inherited my severe fear of heights, so he and I really did not enjoy the ride. I went with Joseph, who whooped with glee the entire time while I clung to the rail and tried not to hyperventilate. Matthew went with Nathan and similarly did not enjoy the experience- see his face full of apprehension? 

Every other ride was a huge hit. The faster it went, the better. They loved every bit of it!

The big kids ran off with a fist full of ride tickets, heading to all the big rides while Nathan and I stayed with Joseph near kiddie section. So we have a lot of Joseph's pictures and almost none of the other kids.

It was such a fun way to spend a summer day together.

 Matthew and Daniel begged to go back on Buddy Day, when there was a steep discount for two 'unlimited ride' passes purchased together. They brought their allowance money and carefully counted out the coins. They were SO excited to have unrestrained access to the fun!

They jointly went on all the rides many times (I may or may not have told them the discount required them to ride together.....) and had a wonderful time. They were glowing with enthusiasm all day, and were always so excited to relate the minute details of each ride. I spent the afternoon enjoying a good book on a blanket in the shade. I kept a large bag filled with iced water and healthy snacks nearby, so the boys could come take a break of the heat and refuel their energy regularly. It was such a happy afternoon, and my heart was so full of joy.

The festival food was outside their small allowance funds, so we picked up dinner at a nearby Mexican restaurant. Matthew ordered one of our favorite drinks- horchata. There were unlimited refills, and it was a very hot afternoon, so he drank over half a gallon of the stuff. My goodness! It didn't faze him at all, and soon we were back in the park enjoying the rides.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Saying Goodbye to Texas

We had spent months renovating and remodeling our house to prepare it for the real estate market.

My days were unbelievably packed with commitments:
- running my art studio business and teaching 20 students each week
- coaching Sarah and Matthew's DI team for roughly 6-10 hours each week
- running my entertainment business and corresponding regularly with clients
- remodeling our home (painting, removing tile in most of the house, (ugh! That took forever!), repairing miscellaneous problems)
- fulfilling my calling in church- teaching each Sunday and making home visits to women
- add on the regular demands of running a household, caring for farm animals, and raising a family

I look back on it now and think I was certainly crazy for juggling so many demands. I see now that I was struggling, but at the time I was so busy trying to stay afloat I didn't realize how stressed I was. I think it was definitely an unsustainable situation. (And comparing it to my life now is such a contrast. When we moved, it was a clean break from all my commitments and businesses. I'm taking a year off from coaching, performing, and teaching so I can focus on personal enrichment. What a joy it's been!!)

 Our house sold in a somewhat miraculous way. Through word-of-mouth, an interested family found out we were going to be listing our house soon.

They asked if they could come see our home weeks before it was even staged for the market. We didn't even have the flooring completely installed when they came to walk through our place,  and there were boxes everywhere. The painting projects weren't finished, so walls were covered in areas of different colors.  But the family was in love with the property just like we were. The huge trees and land were captivating, and they loved the large fruit orchard we had worked so hard to create. The house with perfectly what they wanted.

The following day they placed an offer to purchase the house, with a closing date in just a few weeks. We never expected to sell so quickly! It was nice that we didn't have to stage the house for the photographs for the listing ad. However the timing of things was very tricky.

Nathan was expected to start his new job in Utah in just a few days, so I'd be packing and prepping for the move without his help. I was busy preparing for our huge trip to to Tennessee with the children for our Global Finals, and we had to be out of the house only 3 days after our homecoming.

What a whirlwind it was preparing to move with such short notice! I'll be forever grateful for the loving sisters from church who cheerfully came and helped me. A group of friends helped me finish painting-  laughing and chatting the entire time. I'll never forget what an answer to a desperate prayer they were. More friends helped me pack. Nathan flew back to Texas to help us load the moving van and drive cross-country. The day we loaded the van, we were surrounded with an army of friends from church and work. It was such a huge blessing to have so much help, especially since I was very burned out from the stressful demands of the previous two weeks. We had downsized aggressively for months, but still had too much furniture to fit in the moving truck. So the day of the move we ended up giving away a couch, bedroom sets, dining sets, and more. It was a blessing to some of our friends, who were happy to inherit new furniture. It was comical to see the creative ways furniture was lashed down onto car tops to ferry home!

(Quick note: I don't often mention friends by name, but I wanted to record the following stories so I don't forget their kindness.)

That night we enjoyed a soul-nourishing dinner at a friends' house. Sheryl and Doug Wardell had invited us to sleep at their home so we wouldn't have to stay in a hotel. We were SO exhausted, but they filled our little hearts with so much love it was rejuvenating. They were absolute angels, and were the perfect thing we needed that weekend. She made beds for the children in her recording studio- which they thought was such an adventure. (She's a talented screenwriter and creates videos in her home.) I needed to return to our house that night and finish the final deep cleaning, so Sheryl insisted on coming along to help. Oh heavens, what a blessing that was when I was so desperately tired after a long day! I didn't feel worthy of such a friend, and her cheerful service was the perfect balm for a struggling soul.

In the morning, Doug and Sheryl had an exquisite breakfast ready for us. They served it on their beautiful fine china, which made it feel a bit like a fairy tale. I learned a lot this weekend from them, regarding how to truly render service. They were so loving and generous with their time, and they gave their best efforts to whatever service they rendered. What a powerful lesson to me.

Funny thing- before we could leave town, we needed to attend church that morning. (I had to borrow Sheryl's clothing to attend church- I had forgotten to pack Sunday clothes in my overnight bag! I did remember to pack Sunday things for everyone else though.)

A week ago the bishopric had asked me to speak in sacrament meeting that Sunday, and I had foolishly agreed...thinking I'd have plenty of time to write a talk. A few days before Sunday, I had realized my mistake in accepting the speaking assignment. My sweet friend, Gail Berry, had asked how she could help, and she offered to write my talk. She's gifted with words, so this was a perfect service! Unbelievably, she wrote FOUR very different talks on the topic, so I could choose which one felt 'right' to me. It did draw  a chuckle from the congregation when I opened my talk by giving credit to it's real author. My favorite excerpt from her talk was this:

I am an artist, and my soul sings when I am able to focus on a single project, like creating a painting. There seems to be a divine spark in each of us which longs to be like our Heavenly parents--and our Heavenly parents are the ultimate creators. When I became a mother, I joined with them in this process. It's not only about creating babies; it's about creating an eternal family. If I were a world-class painter, I might create a work of art which inspired viewers for a thousand years, but if I nurture an eternal family --  if I feed and educate and mediate squabbles and strengthen relationships and listen and inspire -- I will bless generations throughout all eternity.

The moment sacrament meeting was over, we changed out of our Sunday clothing in the restrooms, said good-bye to whichever friends we found in the church halls, then left to pick up our moving van at our house. We said a prayer thanking the Lord for our friends and experiences in that place, said a tearful goodbye to our farm, and drove away.

I was blessed with so many friends answering my silent pleas for help that month. I will be always grateful for their love and service, and it was very painful to leave dear friends behind. Even writing this now- nearly five months afterwards- it makes my heart sting to think of the sweet friends I miss. Even though we are very blessed with wonderful friends in our new home, I think we will always have a piece of our  hearts left behind in Texas hill country.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Tornadoes and floods

Our trip home from Global Finals was pretty eventful. I'll always remember it, for it was rather frightening.

On our second day of trekking home, the news report playing on the hotel lobby television was filled with forecasts for a horrendous storm. The storm front extended from Little Rock, Arkansas to Austin, Texas.....which was our entire route for the day. Officials were advising people to stay indoors all day and be watchful for tornadoes. This storm system was a perfect recipe for extreme weather, and was forecast to spawn dozens of tornadoes throughout the country, with severe thunderstorms and very high winds affecting 10 states.  There was no way around this storm, and it wasn't an option to delay our homecoming for another day. (We were scheduled to move to Utah in 4 days and had too much work to do at home.)

We carefully reviewed the safety guidelines of what to do if you're stuck in a car during a tornado, then set off on our journey. The first several hours of our drive passed by uneventfully, with just steady rain and low visibility on the roads. As we entered Texas, the weather became more and more oppressive.

The scariest part was when we were only a couple hours from home. The wind howled and was pummeling our van, as if trying to push us off the road. It made driving difficult. It was raining so hard there was an inch of standing water on the highway.  Large hail filled the air, making a deafening ruckus as the hailstones beat upon our vehicle. The clouds were an impenetrable black blanket, and they were pressing near the earth so low that they touched the tops of the street lights. They were thick and pitch black, and were churning in a mesmerizing way.  I had never seen anything like it.

The children were frightened and huddling in the back seat, covering their heads with backpacks as protection against possible projectiles if our windows shattered. There was no place to pull over for safety, so we sped on at 90 miles an hour. All the traffic around us was also speeding- we universally just wanted to get out from under this ominous storm. My friend was driving, and I was on the lookout for funnel clouds. As I watched out my window, I saw the thick clouds directly ahead of us start swirling.

I had often experienced intense nightmares of tornadoes, and this storm really terrified me. Now I was watching the birth of a funnel cloud, and we had no way to avoid it. There were no exits off the highway, and no place to shelter from this storm. Time slowed down while I watched the clouds dance in tight circles near us. The children couldn't see it, since they were hiding in the back seat, but they were afraid and were squealing that they thought we might die. Keeping an eye on the funnel cloud, I told them there wasn't anything to be worried about and we'd be just fine. (Does that count as a lie?)

At this moment, I was looking at one of my biggest fears. I thought we really could die here- if not from the tornado, we could die from a terrible traffic accident. Time froze completely as I assessed my readiness to meet my Maker. I felt a strange calm in the midst of this raging storm. I realized everything would be okay, whether we lived or not. I accepted the fact that we might die, and that seemed to eliminate some of my fear as I continued watching the storm with an unusual feeling of detachment.

We passed the funnel cloud before it could touch down, and sped to the nearest building we could find: a gas station. Rushing inside, we searched for a room without windows. We initially crowded into the refrigerator, then moved to a restroom where there was more space. We hunkered down with other families and listened to the updates on a weather radio. Over half-a-dozen tornadoes touched down in our vicinity. We crouched in the restroom for half an hour, just waiting.

How blessed we felt when the worst of the storm passed and we could continue our journey! After dropping off our friends, we headed home to our farm. Our path home was obstructed by flash floods. The storm system had dropped so much water that several counties across Texas were flooding severely.  Our road home crossed a few bridges, and the rivers had risen 20 feet. The bridges disappeared under 2 feet of raging brown water, and families were stranded on both sides of the bridge. There was a crowd of people just standing there, watching the water and figuring out what to do.

We drove all over the country side, trying various routes home. Every route we found crossed a river, and every bridge was underwater. There was no way home. We went back to town and purchased dinner at Subway, killing time while we explored our options for the night. The restaurants were packed with other families who couldn't go home, and there was a tired but friendly camaraderie. The police told us the flooding would go down in a few hours, so we just had to wait for a while. After hours of waiting, the bridges emerged from the water and we could finally return home.

I was a bit worried to explore the storm damage on our farm- we wouldn't have much time to repair any problems before the house sold in a few days, and I was worried any damage might make the buyers back out. I expected to see broken tree limbs falling through the roof of our house (we have towering oaks surrounding our home, and limbs frequently fall off in storms- luckily we hadn't had any problems yet.....but this storm was so intense!)

Our driveway was packed full of debris- a massive rotting mat 12 inches deep of tightly packed leaf litter and bits of garbage that had been collected and deposited by the ebbing flood water. There was a dark brown flood line on the stone siding, showing where the flood crested several inches above the ground. I was so worried that our new wood floors would be ruined by water, so I dashed to the front door. (Actually, 'dashed' is the wrong word. The thick layer of wet debris was very slippery. I carefully picked my way across the mat, but as quickly as I could- sliding all over and waving my arms madly trying to keep my balance.)

It was absolutely miraculous- not one drop of water entered our house! I saw it as a loving, tender mercy of our Heavenly Father, who knew my situation and limitations. I couldn't imagine trying to replace flooring while moving in just a few days.

Gratitude filled my chest and we said a family prayer. We thanked the Lord for protecting us during our drive home, for protecting our farm from the worst of the flooding, and protecting our house from water damage or tree limbs. Our animals were safely huddled in the barn, and the property was fine (very muddy and waterlogged, but fine).

The Lord is so good to us!